ÉMU

Chat with the Multitalented Japanese Audio-Visual Performer Maria Takeuchi

Interview November 15, 2020

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Rob Nichols
- Farside Studio

Hi Maria! Can tell me a little about your work?

Maria Takeuchi
- ÉMU

I am an audiovisual artist. I was originally just a musician, but then I started to do some collaborative work with visual artists, and slowly got into creating visual work of my own. I do a lot of performances, and my aim is to express the amazing moment nature merges to digital.

Rob

A lot of the people I talk to are visual creatives and they’ve entered music from that side, so I’m interested in your perspective as a musician coming into the visual realm. What kind of music do you play?

Maria

I play ambient music. I also do some improvisation at the performances, where I play guitar and synthesizers – anything that makes a sound basically. Singing bowls or bells, etc.

Rob

Do you work with other artists or is it all of your own work

Maria

Most of the time I’ll do it by myself, but occasionally I’ll be veejaying for others. Sometimes I’ll just make music for somebody’s video.

Rob

Can you tell me about the SAT?

Maria

SAT is my residency. It’s a nonprofit organization. They focus on digital art, music, and performances. They have a dome space with 157 speakers, so they’re really focused on dome projections and immersive performances. They have different types of open calls, so you can just apply for a festival to showcase your video piece. My proposal was for a year-long project. They fund me and I get a very powerful computer and all the equipment that I need to buy.

My performance was supposed to be from April to May, but because of coronavirus, it got postponed. It’s still been a great opportunity to work there for a year. The team has so much knowledge, and the venue is also used for MUTEK festival.

Rob

What is it like producing music in that dome space?

Maria

I discovered a lot of unique aspects to the acoustics within the dome space. A human ear hears 360 degrees, always. But in a venue, we usually have stereo outputs. So when you maximize that to 360 degrees in a dome space, your hearing sense is brought up so much. Specific sounds like crunchy textures or stepping on a leaf work really well. You can also locate where the sound is – a bass sound will stay in the lower levels, for example.

Rob

How do you make music for that? What software do you use to harness that three-dimensional ability?

Maria

I use Ableton Live. They have a great technician in the team that develops ambisonic sound so I had a lot of help with them too. They have a plugin called “Envelop” that’s quite simple to use – you can maximize the 360 sound using the ambisonic technique.

Rob

What projects are you working on now?

Maria

I’ve been working on a project named ENN, which is about the tie and bonds between humans and matter. It’s an interactive piece and the motion is captured by Kinect. Those movements are projected as particles that move with the sound.

Rob

How was it working with the Kinect? Was that easy to do?

Maria

It could have been simple, but the way that I was trying to achieve it was quite complicated. I use this software called Touch Designer, and the Kinect sensor from Microsoft hadn’t been released where I was at that time, so tech wise it came with a lot of difficulties compared to the older version.

Rob

How do you figure out those technical problems? Have you had help to do that, or do you look online to find resources?

Maria

I got a lot of help from the other tech person for visuals at the SAT. I did a project with the older version of Kinect in 2015, so I had some knowledge of it, but it was my first time just doing it by myself.

Rob

So you’re in New York now. How is the visual scene in Japan and China? Is it as big as in America?

Maria

I actually am not quite sure about China. I only see that online, but it seems quite big now in Taiwan, especially for new media art. Then in Japan, it’s increasing, but that community has a unique taste. I also only really know our community in New York.

Rob

It seems like you have a good community there, right? Are there lots of events being organised?

Maria

Yes. In New York, it’s a combination of everything. It’s not completely just digital. I know a lot of people using analogue techniques to pull out beautiful images, combined with digital art.

Rob

You talk about nature, what do you see in nature that interests you?

Maria

I grew up in the countryside in Japan, in a place called Hyogo. It’s in the West of Japan. My house was right next to the mountains and rice fields. I love the sounds of rain and wind. I realized this when I was travelling to France a couple of years ago. There were so many beautiful layers in the sound of trains, the air in the quietness. I felt so musical. Since then, I have started using more of the field recordings technique. It’s beautiful to merge these sounds with instruments. I think having a strong connection to nature is beneficial for music.

Rob

I think so as well, I love the ambient sounds of nature. What did you listen to when you were growing up in terms of ambient music?

Maria

I actually didn’t really listen to it. Ambient music is quite a new thing for me. I grew up listening to many different genres, like American and European punk and rock. I was into a lot of British band music. I started with the piano. I was also playing the bass guitar for a long time.

Rob

How long are you going to stay in New York?

Maria

I’ve been here for 10 years already, and I am planning to stay here for a long time. But I’m also open to change if anything comes up.

Rob

Do you want to just keep performing and making art?

Maria

Yes. That’s been most of my life. I’ve always been performing so I don’t think I’ll stop that. But this year, I’m focusing on more of the sound and the video work.

Rob

What’s been your favourite performance that you’ve done so far?

Maria

I really enjoyed performing in this small venue called Synesthesia in New York. It started with my friend organizing the events, then we built a community. It’s been so inspiring to do performances with all the talented artists there. It’s been only a few years, maybe two, and we’re already quite strong. We have maybe 20 different people performing there. It’s growing so much, and each of us is very motivated and are getting to be known more within the scene.

Rob

Have you done much within a club space?

Maria

Yes. For club spaces, I usually do more of an avant-garde, techno set with video, and more of the veejaying.

Rob

When you’re listening to the music, what do you look for in the sound when you’re producing the visuals? How do you relate the two together?

Maria

When I combine the visuals with sound, I usually focus on getting the visuals to the noise levels. As mine are quite ambient, it’s all quite subtle. They don’t need to sync up completely.

Rob

Do you try and tell a story with your visuals or is it just more abstract?

Maria

It’s more abstract. I think I’m telling a story through the music.

Rob

When you do the veejaying, is it mainly coding, or is it pre-recorded videos or photos?

Maria

I use Resolume and rendered videos to use as sources for Touch Designer. I don’t have a windows laptop, only a desktop. Touch Designer is much faster to render. It’s quite useful for everything, even with still images. I’ve done particle simulations and displacements. I learned how to with tutorials, but you can start with just copy and paste. People are sharing so much amazing stuff that’s easy to get into.

Rob

How do you go about finding people to pay you for performances?

Maria

I’m still trying to see how that works. I organize audiovisual events in Synesthesia and we get quite a lot of people, even though the space is small. We’re able to pay the artists, but we have so many artists playing so that’s also a challenge.

I don’t really have a showreel. I’m just lucky that I have people around me involved in that industry and we have evolved together, so I have more content to show. I think a lot of people will be looking at you from Instagram, so posting your work on there with hashtags works really well.

Rob

What kind of art are you into? Are there any artists that have influenced your work?

Maria

Yeah, I love the work of Ryoji Ikeda called “The Radar” –  it was an immersive projection on the beach in Brazil. It was a beautiful combination with nature.

Rob

With his work, there’s a lot of data behind it. Do you try and do that with your work as well?

Maria

With mine, I don’t use too much data. I wish I could put more mathematics in it, however, I do input some information from nature for visuals. Liquid or particles can be computed from nature. In Touch Designer, you use a lot of noise to recreate something complex.

Rob

So you can use the noise as an input and then generate from the back of that?

Maria

Yes. So many noises in my work are taken from nature. The more I use those digital techniques, the more I feel strongly that using nature is important.

Rob

I always like natural textures in my work. So I will always try and create things that feel more organic. I use some code, but I wouldn’t say I enjoy it necessarily. It’s always quite labour-intensive, and not very visual.

Maria

In that case, Touch Designer would be perfect for you. It involves a little bit of coding. If you know the Python code or C++, or openGL, that’s very strong.

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